What’s the big deal about our hair?
By, Ascellia M. Arenas
To weave or not to weave; that is the question. This summer I’ve given my natural hair a break. Currently, I’m rocking my hair in its natural state. No perm, no texturizer; just a simple wash and go style. I’ve worn my hair this way many times throughout my life. This is not my first “big chop,” all I did was remove my extensions, no chop. My first “big chop” was in elementary school. I begged my mother to let me get a perm so I can look like her and my older sister. My fuzzy curly mop didn’t look smooth like theirs. She gave in, my father was furious because he didn’t think I needed to do anything extra to enhance my appearance; he still thinks the same way, I digress… I love all different types of hairstyles, I don’t judge women about their choice of wearing natural hairstyles or wearing perms, weaves and wigs. It is a personal choice. What makes you feel good? Why does it make you feel good?
I play with hairstyles all of the time because I know, it’s just HAIR. I have worn my hair all types of ways. Weaves, wigs, braids, perms, shaved completely bald, dyed platinum blonde, you name it! Recently, popular culture has given women of color “permission” to wear our natural locks with pride. We have consciously changed the narrative about how we want to wear our hair. The natural hair movement is in full swing! We even have Curl Fest, a festival where women with all different types of hair meet and celebrate HAIR! No hair shaming, just appreciation and proactive care for natural hair. I love it.
Women of color have fought this battle tremendously, especially during the 20th century, via various forms of media. We have sacrificed our personal concept of our image in an effort to sustain our lives and the lives of our families. All women have a hair struggle story: be it how getting a hairdo is a ritual, how she will or will not be accepted because of her curl pattern or lack thereof, length, color, how a certain hair style will ensure her social status and more. Psychological attachments to hair and identity are very real. If you don’t believe me, ask a woman, any woman, about her hair journey. It is a universal truth for females. The narrative is different but the common core of acceptance flows through each, regardless of race.
As early as the late 19th Century women of color were influenced to change the texture of our hair. We are all very aware of the first female African-American millionaire, Madame C J Walker, who introduced pomades and hot combs to help women of African decent wear straightened hairstyles. Garret Morgan, the inventor of the chemical relaxer, introduced us to dressings and treatments to help us “tame” our curls, as well. All of these dressings were created to make women appear “well groomed” i.e. suitable. In 1971, Proline/Dark and Lovely introduced the lye based relaxer which was mass produced and sold for use in salons and at home. For well over 100 years, women of color have been conditioned to “do something with that hair,” which usually means-straighten it to make it look more appealing to what we are told is appealing so says popular culture. You still there? Do you get it? Somebody said something was wrong with our hair and we believed it.
We have choices when it comes to wearing our hair in different hairstyles. In an effort to “fit-in” in corporate America many non-white women opt for a smooth hair style that is complementary to the image that their business presents. Many fear that they will not be promoted in their industry because of how they look. Women fear looking “less feminine” or intimidating if they wear braids, locs, locks, or any other type of natural hairstyles to work. This has been topic of discussion in the media since 1990’s where specifically African-American women were forbidden to wear braids, locks, locs, or other natural hairstyles, in the US Military. This impacts our ability to earn, hence our ability to provide. This matters especially if she is a single parent.
Entrepreneurial women of color have the option of wearing their hair in a natural style or in a weave style at their own discretion. Whether or not her business increases or decreases because of her appearance will determine her demographic and her success. Our hair carries so much weight, literally and figuratively.
So, the question remains…to weave, or not weave? What do you think?